Fan disapproval of Mark Brunell is running at about 99 percent. Who can blame fans for being upset that Brunell declined to meet with Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver Tuesday?
The fact of the matter is that this is not something new to the NFL. Players employ agents so the players don't have to get involved in negotiating. It shouldn't be surprising that agent Leigh Steinberg advised Brunell not to meet with Weaver. After all, Brunell is paying Steinberg to be his mouthpiece.
Big-money contract negotiations are usually painstaking and time-consuming, and the result is usually a degree of enmity that quickly evaporates when team and player pen their names to a new deal. We experienced the same last summer when Tony Brackens was a training camp holdout.
Blame Brunell if you must, but the fact of the matter is he is only acting as every other player in the league would act. He's protecting his career and his value. This is not a moralistic issue. It's about business, and what's important is to understand the options available to the Jaguars and to Brunell.
What are the Jaguars' options?
Other than for the fact the Jaguars need to negotiate a new deal with Brunell to create cap room they'll need to sign their draft class or any other players to the roster, the team would seem to have leverage over Brunell, mostly the result of recent quarterback contracts that are considerably less than projections.
The Jaguars are under the cap with Brunell on the roster, which means they can retain him as their quarterback, or his rights, indefinitely. As Weaver told jaguars.com in January, one strategy for retaining Brunell was to fit his current contract under the cap, then slap him with the "franchise tag" at the end of next season, if a new deal couldn't be reached. The Jaguars can do that indefinitely, which means Brunell would be paid the average of the top five quarterback salaries in the league, but without a signing bonus.
Such a scenario would further strap the Jaguars' cap, since salary must be declared in full in the year it is paid, but the lack of a signing bonus offers a team the potential for a full and immediate escape. For example, a "franchise player" who suffers a career-ending injury can be released without the team having to claim him on future caps. Book closed.
Though the Jaguars need the cap room a new Brunell deal would present, they could find other ways to clear cap room to sign their draft class, pay Brunell the roster bonus he's due on March 31, then sit back and be patient with further negotiations with their quarterback.
Trading or cutting Kevin Hardy would represent a $2.2 million cap savings. A couple of other moves, after June 1, would provide the other money the Jags would need to sign their draft picks.
The Jags could take a more dramatic and immediate route. They could trade Brunell before March 31, avoid paying him the roster bonus, and save $7 million against their 2001 salary cap. The advantages of that strategy would include added draft choices and plenty of cap room to sign them. In that case, the team would definitely be building for the future. Of course, they would be without a quarterback in 2001, which means all of the re-structuring they did to keep the core of this team together will have been for naught.
What are Brunell's options?
He can work with the team on a new deal, or force the team's hand. Indications are he wants to remain in Jacksonville and will continue to work on a new deal, but the fact of the matter is Brett Favre's new contract would seem to have set the market value at the quarterback position, leaving Brunell with very little bargaining room with the Jaguars or any other team in the league.
This remains a business matter. We all want to believe loyalty is the issue, but it never is. This is about options and which side will use them to gain leverage over the other. Recent events would seem to favor the Jaguars.